The Financial Rights Legal Centre is a community legal centre specialising in financial services, particularly in the areas of consumer credit, banking, debt recovery and insurance. It is the only such Centre in NSW, and one of the only centres in Australia that fully integrates telephone assistance and financial counselling with legal advice and representation. The Financial Rights Legal Centre also operates the Insurance Law Service, a national specialist consumer insurance advice service.
As a community legal centre the Financial Rights Legal Centre is largely government funded and independently managed by a voluntary Management Committee. We maintain a particular focus on issues that affect vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers. We provide a well-integrated combination of information, advice, casework, and education to assist consumers in financial stress. We also conduct research and collect data from our extensive contact with consumers to campaign for changes to law and industry practice for the benefit of consumers. We employ both financial counsellors and solicitors to provide the best service for our clients.
Our goals are to:
- Assist consumers of financial services, particularly disadvantaged consumers, to effectively assert their rights and protect their legitimate interests.
- Promote consumer understanding of financial services regulation, policy and industry practice.
- Achieve redress for individual clients of the Centre.
- Promote reforms in regulation, policy and industry practice that will help create a fairer marketplace for consumers of financial services, particularly disadvantaged consumers.
- Achieve excellence in all aspects of the management and administration of a small community organisation.
In order to meet these goals, we:
- Provide information, legal advice and referral in relation to banking, credit and debt and related matters to consumers and community/welfare agencies.
- Provide ongoing casework services in relation to banking, credit and debt and related matters to consumers and community/welfare agencies. When appropriate, this can include legal representation at Tribunal or Court hearings, and/or advocacy through industry dispute resolution schemes.
- Conduct community legal education on and raise public awareness concerning regulation, industry practices and consumer issues in the areas of banking, credit and debt and other financial services. We also develop and disseminate community legal education resources, such as kits and fact sheets, to different target groups.
- Pursue pro-consumer reforms in financial services’ regulation (including self-regulation), policy and industry practice through casework, campaigns, and participation in policy development and review processes.
- Develop and maintain the operation and management of the Centre.
The Credit and Debt Hotline operated by the Financial Rights Legal Centre is the NSW answer point for the national 1800 007 007 number for accessing financial counselling. The line is staffed by financial counsellors and solicitors. Callers are given information and advice to assist with resolving their financial difficulties and disputes over the phone. Where appropriate we will also provide referrals to face-to-face financial counselling services, free dispute resolution schemes for financial services and many other community and government services. In some cases we encourage callers to stay in contact with us as they take each step in resolving their problem or dispute. In a very small number of cases callers may qualify for case work assistance.
Financial Counselling assistance is only available to clients who:
- Cannot access face-to-face financial counselling services in their local area; or
- Are also receiving legal assistance from Financial Rights Legal Centre; or
- Are dealing with problems that are relevant to a current issue of relevance to the research, policy and law reform work of Financial Rights Legal Centre;
Financial counselling casework assistance may consist of any or all of the following depending on the circumstances of the client:
- Assessing the client’s financial situation
- Negotiating with creditors
- Pursuing insurance claims
- Developing a money plan
- Advising about rights, including eligibility for payments and other assistance
- Advising clients about their options in relation to debt collection, legal debt recovery action and bankruptcy
- Assisting clients to dispute the actions of a credit or financial service provider in an external dispute resolution scheme.
- Assisting the client to make strategic decisions about managing their finances
We provide free telephone legal advice to NSW consumers on credit, debt and banking matters. However we cannot provide advice to businesses.
For an example of what sort of issues we can help you with, read the short case study below.
Legal advice is available by talking to one of our solicitors over the phone by calling 1800 007 007.
Interpreters are available by calling 131 450 (also for the hearing impaired).
If you or your client are having difficulty contacting our advice service because of a disability or problems using an interpreter service, please let us know on our administration line (02) 9212 4216.
If you are simply having difficulty getting through to us, please be patient and persistent – we are a small service and we are often very busy!
Please note that you will not be able to talk to a solicitor by ringing the administration line and we do not give legal advice in response to e-mail correspondence.
Legal Advice Case Study
The following case study gives an example of what sort of legal advice Financial Rights Legal Centre can provide to clients – what our solicitors can and cannot do.
Maria owes $20,000 in personal debts, including two store cards, a credit card and a personal loan. She is currently on unpaid maternity leave and does not know when she will return to work, or who will look after the baby. She is very stressed and is thinking about bankruptcy as a solution. She doesn’t like the idea of going bankrupt because she lives in a remote suburb with little public transport and she doesn’t want to lose her car. She had also imagined that she would buy a house one day. The phone calls and letters demanding money, however, are becoming a constant source of distress.
What our solicitor can do
A solicitor at Financial Rights Legal Centre can give Maria free advice over the phone.
That advice may include:
- What her creditors can do to her if she does not pay them and does not go bankrupt
- What she can do if her creditors take her to court and whether she may have a valid defence to any court action
- Whether or not she may be eligible for a hardship variation on one or more of her loans (that is a temporary break from repayments or a reduction in repayments and extension of time to pay the loan) and how to apply
- How to apply for bankruptcy and what will be involved – including whether she will lose her car and what effect it might have on her ability to borrow money in the future
- A referral to a face to face financial counsellor who can explore her options in more detail, negotiate with her creditors on her behalf and assist her with taking appropriate action.
What our solicitor cannot do
- Our solicitor generally will not contact Maria’s creditors on her behalf
- Our solicitor generally will not assist Maria to go bankrupt, access her superannuation or take any other step to alleviate her financial position
- Our solicitor generally will not file any court papers or represent her in any legal action except as set out below.
In some circumstances we may find that a caller raises an important legal issue about a loan or other banking service, such as that a lender or their agent has not complied with the law, or has acted unfairly towards the consumer. In such cases we may agree to look at a caller’s case in more detail.
In deciding whether to offer additional assistance, our solicitors will give priority to disadvantaged consumers. However, simply not being able to afford to pay your debts is not a legal issue.
In some cases, clients may be eligible for Written Advice or Further Assistance from Financial Rights Legal Centre. Read below for details.
For examples of what sort of issues we can help you with, read these brief case studies.
Most people who contact Financial Rights Legal Centre for assistance are given legal advice over the telephone only. In some cases callers may be asked to send in a written account of their problem and copies of all relevant documents (such as loan contracts, letters and court documents).
This will only happen if:
- The caller has a legal problem in relation to a loan, contract of guarantee, credit account or other banking service (such as a direct debit arrangement)
- The caller is not in a position to consult a private solicitor
- The centre solicitors have sufficient time available to consider the matter.
Usually the centre is only able to assist in situations where loans have been taken out for personal rather than business purposes. In some cases the centre solicitors may be able to assist people who have guaranteed or co-borrowed in relation to a business loan for a partner or family member but were not directly involved in the business themselves. The centre is also unable to assist in relation to investment loans.
Once a solicitor has received a client’s documents they will proceed to research the matter and provide the client with written advice about his or her options.
In a small proportion of cases further assistance may be offered.
This may include:
- Negotiating with the other party (such as the bank) to try and resolve the matter;
- Drafting a complaint to an alternative dispute resolution scheme such as the Banking & Financial Services Ombudsman or the Credit Ombudsman Service;
- Reporting relevant matters to the Office of Fair Trading or other regulatory body;
- Representing the client in a court or the Consumer, Trader & Tenancy Tribunal.
Further assistance will only be offered where:
- The client has a legal problem in relation to a loan, contract of guarantee, credit account or other banking service (such as a direct debit arrangement);
- Problems similar to the client’s problem are being, or are likely to be, experienced by other consumers;
- Assisting the client may lead to benefits for other consumers;
- The caller is not able to afford to consult a private solicitor or other appropriate legal service;
- The centre solicitors have sufficient time available to undertake the matter.
Priority will be given to clients who are economically disadvantaged and/or have difficulty accessing legal redress because of poor English language skills or an illness or disability.
As a specialist legal centre, Financial Rights Legal Centre seeks to assist other caseworkers to help their clients more effectively with issues related to credit, banking & debt. We also encourage input from other caseworkers about financial services policy issues affecting our clients.
The following is a guide to the services and resources we offer and the procedures we use to pursue these goals.
- Dedicated Financial Counsellor Hotline
- Co-operative legal assistance
- Workshops and Forums
Dedicated Financial Counsellor Hotline
Financial counsellors can contact the Dedicated Financial Counsellor Hotline weekdays on 1800 650 084 to access advice, assistance and support from our experienced staff financial counsellors, or where necessary a solicitor, in relation to credit, debt and banking matters.
The Hotline operates between 09.30am and 4.30pm weekdays.
Co-operative Legal Assistance
In some cases Financial Rights Legal Centre will accept the referral of a client and handle their case exclusively. Often it will be appropriate for a worker to remain involved. The extent of this involvement may vary from a solicitor in a regional community legal centre who represents a client and obtains some guidance from our centre solicitors, to the situation where we handle the matter but ask the worker to obtain documents and statements from the client according to our instructions.
Most commonly, a financial counsellor or community worker may assist a client to self-represent by drafting letters, explaining legal processes and other essential tasks with assistance from Financial Rights Legal Centre. This assistance may take the form of obtaining telephone advice at appropriate points in the process, and/or using the information and sample forms and letters provided by Financial Rights Legal Centre.
Workshop and Forums
Financial Rights Legal Centre presents workshops and forums on a range of consumer issues to financial counsellors, community workers, legal aid and community lawyers and other relevant government employees.
These events are held in Sydney and some regional NSW locations. Topics include:
- The Consumer Credit Code
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (in relation to loans and banking)
- Finance Brokers and Mortgage Originators
- Debt Recovery through the Courts (Debtor’s Perspective)
- Family Breakdown and Debt
- Banking Issues (such as direct debits, complaints resolution and disputed credit cards transactions)
- The Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal
We Can Come to You
We may be able to tailor a workshop to the needs of your staff, network or clients on issues related to consumer loans, banking and debt. Contact us by phone: 02 9212 4216 and give the details of your organisation, the topic(s) you want addressed and the intended audience.
Granting of requests depends on staff availability and minimum numbers apply. Travel to country areas will be considered where there are sufficient numbers of participants.